The last production of Folger Theatre’s 25th anniversary season began on Monday with the first rehearsal and read-through of Timon of Athens. What can we expect from this rarely performed play? Let’s take a peek inside the room and see what we can learn….
It was a beautiful spring day outside as the cast, crew, and designers of Timon of Athens gathered with Folger staff members and invited guests at the Folger Haskell Center to begin the Timon of Athens’ rehearsal process. Associate Artistic Producer/Associate Director of Public Programs Beth Emelson introduced Robert Richmond as a director who is known for tackling the challenging plays in the Shakespearean canon, joking that it would be just too easy to call him in for something like A Midsummer Night’s Dream. To prove the point, Richmond then surveyed the audience as to who had previously either read or seen a production of Timon, and was greeted with a sparse smattering of raised hands.
So why this play, and why now? Richmond explained that the idea had first been raised after he, Artistic Producer/Director of Public Programs Janet Griffin, and resident dramaturg Michele Osherow saw a broadcast of Nicholas Hytner’s production for the National Theatre in London.
This production showed that Timon was a vital, contemporary story. The next question was how to do it at the Folger, and that initially led Richmond to visions of 1950’s Rat Pack Vegas and images of hoarded gold in abandoned casinos. While there were many connections between the excess and financial fluidity of that era and the world of the play, Richmond eventually began to move away from those ideas in favor of exploring Timon‘s themes of friendship and our 21st century reliance on social media and technology. Inspired particularly by the UK series Black Mirror and the smart house of I.T., Richmond worked with scenic designer Tony Cisek to imagine a world of clean surfaces and sharp lines, set 5-10 years in the future, where “the tech is a little more advanced” and “a person’s value relies on money.”
It was then Cisek’s turn to take the floor, guiding us through his concepts for Timon’s ultra-sleek smart house and even offering a few teasers of the projections being designed by Francesca Talenti. We’ll look at these designs, and Cisek’s history with the Folger, in a future blog post, but for now here is a sample of some of the inspirations for the Athens of this production:
Costume designer Mariah Hale shared sketches of the costumes, describing Timon as “impeccably dressed” and the world of play as filled with uniforms with a “monochromatic blue” palette. While the original play has more than 40 characters, there are only 12 actors in the cast, so a major consideration of this production is how to condense and combine roles as well as double-up the parts various actors are playing. There were hints that hair and/or wigs might come into play, and references to Shakira, Kim Kardashian, grunge, and “skaters boys” all contributing to the style of Athens.
The design presentations concluded with Matt Otto giving everyone a taste of some of the music and effects that would be used throughout the show, both to establish the time and place of the production as well as to help audiences understand Timon’s emotional state. There was lots of Mediterranean flavor, with some house music as well as scores indicating “the wheels of fortune” turning.
With those images and sounds in our heads, it was time to dig into the first read-through of the script. What unfolded was a story of a well-meaning man whose grasp of friendship, loyalty, and monetary matters is directly in conflict with the mercenary tendencies of those around him.
Lavish parties in a high-tech world, dark humor, an invading army, buried treasure, the collapse of wealth and privilege, and “something appalling”—the story of Timon of Athens hurtled along to its dark conclusion. We won’t say more than that so as to not spoil the plot, but suffice it to say, this is a story that speaks to our time and we can’t wait to see what this production has in store!